|Exchange students at Makor Chaim in Israel: Front, from left, Moshe Rosensweig of Jamaica Estates, N.Y.; David Ort of New Milford; middle row, Moshe Dov Leiter of Passaic; Aryeh Klein of New Hempstead, N.Y., Akiva Pudell and Yehoshua Szafranski of Teaneck, Shiloh Shalom of Great Neck, N.Y., and Gavriel Boniuk of Riverdale, N.Y.; back row, Ori Putterman of Bergenfield, Ari Altman of Monsey, N.Y., Shaya Kestenbaum of Bergenfield, and Gabriel Rosenthal of Wesley Hills, N.Y., counselors Didi Reichner and Tova Rosenberg.|
After six weeks as an Israeli high school student, Teaneck’s Akiva Pudell was left marveling at the amount of freedom his Israeli peers enjoy.
“Nobody is chasing them around saying ‘do this and do that,’ but for the most part, the kids do what they’re supposed to – which is amazing,” said Akiva.
The 10th-grader was one of a dozen New York and New Jersey students at Yeshiva University’s MTA High School for Boys chosen to participate in the fourth year of a student exchange. They spent six weeks at the Makor Chaim boys’ school in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion south of Jerusalem, while five New York residents from the university’s high school for girls were at Ulpanat Tzvia in Ma’aleh Adumim, northeast of Jerusalem.
The teenagers returned home at the beginning of February, and now their schools are hosting students from the two Israeli schools for six weeks. The visitors are attending classes, touring New York City and Philadelphia, and experiencing life in Jewish neighborhoods in the United States.
“We are opening the eyes of every student involved in the program to the reality of the global Jewish community,” said Tova Rosenberg, director of the exchange programs and Hebrew language studies at both Yeshiva University high schools.
“Several other schools send students to Israel for a few weeks, but they take along their own faculty. Our students actually become Israeli for six weeks. They dorm with Israeli students and are totally integrated with them in Judaic studies classes and in all activities. We employ teachers there for general studies so that they don’t get behind their classmates at home. No other program does this.”
The exchange is also unusual in that the YU high school administrators are open to implementing ideas brought back by the participants.
In fact, Head of School Rabbi Michael Taubes, a Teaneck resident, says he wants the students to internalize the special “ruach” (spirit) that permeates Makor Chaim and bring it back to MTA, “thereby elevating the overall Torah atmosphere here. Many students develop this sense of ruach when spending time in a yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael after finishing high school; this program enables them to have this experience while still in high school and share this spirit that they have cultivated with their classmates here upon returning.”
“With several years of ‘returnees’ now in our school, the program has become a very popular and well-attended highlight of the end of the MTA week,” Taubes said.
Ori Putterman of Bergenfield said he knew from the moment they landed that the experience would be unforgettable.
“We’re walking out of baggage claim and we see guys from the yeshivah holding signs and guitars, and they start singing, dancing, going crazy,” he reported. “It was kind of a shock to get off a long flight and start dancing. Then we went right to the Kotel [Western Wall], a great way to begin the trip.”